Friday Black

Friday Black

by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah


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“An unbelievable debut, one that announces a new and necessary American voice.” Tommy Orange, New York Times Book Review

“An excitement and a wonder: strange, crazed, urgent and funny.”George Saunders

“Dark and captivating and essential . . . A call to arms and a condemnation . . . Read this book.” Roxane Gay

A National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, chosen by Colson Whitehead
Winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award for Best First Book

A piercingly raw debut story collection from a young writer with an explosive voice; a treacherously surreal, and, at times, heartbreakingly satirical look at what it’s like to be young and black in America.

From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country.

These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In “The Finkelstein Five,” Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unforgettable reckoning of the brutal prejudice of our justice system. In “Zimmer Land,” we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of racism as sport. And “Friday Black” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” show the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all.

Entirely fresh in its style and perspective, and sure to appeal to fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, and George Saunders, Friday Black confronts readers with a complicated, insistent, wrenching chorus of emotions, the final note of which, remarkably, is hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328911247
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 10/23/2018
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 54,296
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

NANA KWAME ADJEI-BRENYAH has an MFA from Syracuse University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Guernica, Printer's Row, and Breakwater Review, where ZZ Packer awarded him the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize.

Read an Excerpt

Fela, the headless girl, walked toward Emmanuel. Her neck jagged with red savagery. She was silent, but he could feel her waiting for him to do something, anything.

Then his phone rang, and he woke up.

He took a deep breath and set the Blackness in his voice down to a 1.5 on a 10-point scale. “Hi there, how are you doing today? Yes, yes, I did recently inquire about the status of my application. Well, all right, okay. Great to hear. I’ll be there. Have a spectacular day.” Emmanuel rolled out of bed and brushed his teeth. The house was quiet. His parents had already left for work.

That morning, like every morning, the first decision he made regarded his Blackness. His skin was a deep, constant brown. In public, when people could actually see him, it was impossible to get his Blackness down to anywhere near a 1.5. If he wore a tie, wing-tipped shoes, smiled constantly, used his indoor voice, and kept his hands strapped and calm at his sides, he could get his Blackness as low as 4.0.

Though Emmanuel was happy about scoring the interview, he also felt guilty about feeling happy about anything. Most people he knew were still mourning the Finkelstein verdict: after twenty-eight minutes of deliberation, a jury of his peers had acquitted George Wilson Dunn of any wrongdoing whatsoever. He had been indicted for allegedly using a chain saw to hack off the heads of five black children outside the Finkelstein Library in Valley Ridge, South Carolina. The court had ruled that because the children were basically loitering and not actually inside the library reading, as one might expect of productive members of society, it was reasonable that Dunn had felt threatened by these five black young people and, thus, he was well within his rights when he protected himself, his library-loaned DVDs, and his children by going into the back of his Ford F-150 and retrieving his Hawtech PRO eighteen-inch 48cc chain saw.

The case had seized the country by the ear and heart, and was still, mostly, the only thing anyone was talking about. Finkelstein became the news cycle. On one side of the broadcast world, anchors openly wept for the children, who were saints in their eyes; on the opposite side were personalities like Brent Kogan, the ever gruff and opinionated host of What’s the Big Deal?, who had said during an online panel discussion, “Yes, yes, they were kids, but also, fuck niggers.” Most news outlets fell somewhere in-between.

On verdict day, Emmanuel’s family and friends of many different races and backgrounds had gathered together and watched a television tuned to a station that had sympathized with the children, who were popularly known as the Finkelstein Five. Pizza and drinks were served. When the ruling was announced, Emmanuel felt a clicking and grinding in his chest. It burned. His mother, known to be one of the liveliest and happiest women in the neighborhood, threw a plastic cup filled with Coke across the room. When the plastic fell and the soda splattered, the people stared at Emmanuel’s mother. Seeing Mrs. Gyan that way meant it was real: they’d lost. Emmanuel’s father walked away from the group wiping his eyes, and Emmanuel felt the grinding in his chest settle to a cold nothingness. On the ride home, his father cursed. His mother punched honks out of the steering wheel. Emmanuel breathed in and watched his hands appear, then disappear, then appear, then disappear as they rode past streetlights. He let the nothing he was feeling wash over him in one cold wave after another.

But now that he’d been called in for an interview with Stich’s, a store self-described as an “innovator with a classic sensibility” that specialized in vintage sweaters, Emmanuel had something to think about besides the bodies of those kids, severed at the neck, growing damp in thick, pulsing, shooting blood. Instead, he thought about what to wear.

In a vague move of solidarity, Emmanuel climbed into the loose-fitting cargoes he’d worn on a camping trip. Then he stepped into his patent-leather Space Jams with the laces still clean and taut as they weaved up all across the black tongue. Next, he pulled out a long-ago abandoned black hoodie and dove into its tunnel. As a final act of solidarity, Emmanuel put on a gray snapback cap, a hat similar to the ones two of the Finkelstein Five had been wearing the day they were murdered—a fact George Wilson Dunn’s defense had stressed throughout the proceedings.

Emmanuel stepped outside into the world, his Blackness at a solid 7.6. He felt like Evel Knievel at the top of a ramp.

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Friday Black 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Stop_and_Smell_the_Pages More than 1 year ago
Last year was the year I got back into short stories. I actually read quite a few collections, most of which were excellent and therefore highly recommendable. For a while, I was reading like a mad person, cranking out reviews, and in my spare time, I went to work. Then something weird happened: work took over more and more of that precious time formerly dedicated to books! The truth is, I had “Friday Black” finished months ago, and here we are, only getting around to talking about it! Let’s start with the summary: these twelve stories are compelling, thought-provoking, told from fresh, unique viewpoints that will send hooks into your brain and hang on long after you’ve closed the last page. Some stories are exaggerated accounts of events many of us have witnessed, like the absolute craziness during big sales., like in the title story or ‘In Retail.’ Others are social observations with a sci-fi twist, like ‘The Era’, ‘Zimmer Land’, or the closing story, ‘Through the Flash.’ These narratives get up close and personal with some uncomfortable situations and characters, which translates into requiring the reader to take time for proper digestion. This is an amazing collection, but you will not breeze through it in an afternoon, nor should you. To learn more about the author and what inspired “Friday Black”, take some time to listen to this review podcast by the New York Times. “Friday Black” is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I was lucky to snag an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions, as always, are entirely my own.
Writingsmut More than 1 year ago
While this collection is uneven (some stories are 5/5 and some didn't do anything for me), the overall effect is impressive. The writing is solid at the sentence-level. The stories revolve around racism, classism, and other forms of societal prejudice. That, however, is not to say the tales get preachy. A few of them concern themselves with retail work—and the misery that such can bring upon employee and consumer—and though I remember my retail pains well, these tales speak no doubt to the author's first-hand miseries and youth. The best story in this collection is the lead-ff: "The Finkelstein 5." This story could have become one long rant or editorializing judgment or even a slapstick satire, but the tale of a white man who is found innocent after chain-sawing off the heads of five black children is played straight and works beautifully. Another standout is "Zimmerland," where a futuristic theme park caters to white's desire to fight off (and kill) black predators. Again, these tales are making a point but not in lieu of the story. The writing is solid, some of the tales are amazing. This is a writer with much more in store.
Anneke Van Couvering More than 1 year ago
Book Review: Friday Black Author: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Publisher: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication Date: October 23, 2018 Review Date: October 30, 2018 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is the author’s debut book, a collection of short stories. This is yet another one of those extraordinary books I’ve been honored to read via NetGalley. This book has taken the literary world by storm, for good reason. Go take a look at the book’s front page on Amazon. Reviews and comments by most of who’s who in the current literary scene: Colson Whitehead, Roxane Gay, George Saunders. The jacket blurb on Amazon says this: “A piercingly raw debut story collection from a young writer with an explosive voice; a treacherously surreal, and, at times, heartbreakingly satirical look at what it’s like to be young and black in America.” From a review by Cory Oldweiler: “These 12 stories caricature our society's racism, hyper-consumerism, ignorance, glorification of violence and that ever-increasing need to gratify every impulse. The astonishing intensity of Adjei-Brenyah's scenarios are so at odds with the measured, almost workmanlike prose used to convey them that the extreme suddenly seems uncomfortably less outlandish.” These are incredible, unusual, way outside-the-box stories. The book reminded me a bit of Amy Bonnaffon’s recent debut book, The Wrong Heaven. Though this book takes place in a different world and has quite a different flavor. More rageful and violent. Many of the stories contain killing, violence, death and murderous rage. The language is captivating. The stories made me think hard, and stunned me. I sometimes find reading short stories difficult, because I want more. The story ends, and I’m left thinking, that’s it? I want to go deeper into the world of each story but that’s the nature of short stories. I might say these stories are about what it’s like to be a young black man in America, but these stories go way, way beyond that. The author is on his way to a long, successful career. I can’t wait to read his first novel. 10 stars out of 5! You have GOT to read this book. I don’t feel that I can adequately describe what the stories are like or what they’re about. All I can do is plead for you to read them, so you can see for yourself. You’ll be missing so much if you don’t. Thank you, Mr. Adjei-Brenyah and all the best of luck to you. This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram and Amazon.